The 2021 Freedom Challenge season is finished (although there is talk of a 2021 Spring Ride to Rhodes). This serves as the final wrap-up report. Statistics, observations, thanks and forthcoming attractions. No post offices or other similar flighty topics whatsoever.
In spite of trying conditions (COVID in particular) the 2021 winter season was a resounding success and bodes well for the future of the Freedom Challenge. Numbers are strong (both in terms of entrants and fund raising for the scholarship fund). Support mechanisms (Race Office, support stations, Buffalo Herders, Freedom Writers and Photographers, and social media coverage) grow each year. The sustainability of the Freedom Challenge is on solid grounds.
Race Director Chris Fisher comments as follows:
“It was a challenging year, but we are just glad to have been able to stage the 2021 events. RASA 2021 had a record field at the start-line and the timing with the 3rd COVID wave could not have been worse. Looking back I think it is fair to say that things went as well as we could have hoped for.
Well done to all the riders who had to brave some exceptionally testing weather out there this year, probably the coldest, windiest year in recent history.
Massive thanks to all the wonderful hosts for keeping your doors open throughout the 3rd wave and making this year happen and special thanks for all the support we had en route from the Buffalo herders, new and old, who gave so freely of their time to help others live out their adventure dreams! Thank you!”
The statistics for the winter 2021 events are as follows:
36 out of 55 starters earned their blankets. The withdrawal rate of around 35% was the highest for many years, if not the highest ever. No surprise given the very difficult weather conditions.
To date a total of 441 blankets (average 24.5 per year) have been earned by 298 unique riders (average 16.6 per year). Nearly 300 proud blanket holders out there. That is some achievement.
Podium positions men (and overall):
Fjord Jordaan (13 days 13 hours)
Axel Poser (14 days 6 hours)
Gavin Horton (14 days 9 hours)
Podium positions women (only two finishers):
Franci Joubert (21 days 9 hours)
Sarah van Eden (21 days 13 hours)
Joining the clubs of:
5 blankets: Nigel Payne and Gary Scoular
Sub 15 days: Axel Poser
New blanket wearers (19, thus bringing the total number of unique blanket holders to 298): Andrew Cromhout, Andrew Green, Brett Andrew, Carlo Gonzago, Derrick Bingham, Dominic Giampaolo, Franci Joubert, Greg Fisher, Greg Philps, Iain Russell, Jason Wesson, Kemsley Wood, Martin Victor, Merak Greaves, Oliver Greaves, Paul Micklewood, Roger Nicholson, Sandy Inglis and Scott Danoher
Father and son finishers – Merak/Oliver Greaves
32 finishers, including quite a number of riders who were doing RASA but dropped out after Rhodes. The latter riders nevertheless earned their whips.
Men: Chris van Zyl (2 days and 20 hours)
Women: Ingrid Avidon (3 days and 10 hours)
(Note: Officially Ingrid won the overall RTR as Chris was entered for RASA. Ingrid’s time set a new women’s record for the women’s RTR winner, although not the “fastest known time“, set by Janine Stewart during RASA 2020)
Only 4 finishers as there were multiple withdrawals at both the entrance and the exit of Stettynskloof. The Kloof showed once again how formidable a challenge it presents at the end of RASA and RTP.
Men : Anthony Avidon (2 days and 18 hours ) (new record)
Women: Sally Hayman (4 days and 12 hours) (new record)
Some observations and thanks.
The daily report writing is a task that has evolved over time. This year we spread the load far and wide and I think this worked well. Mike Woolnough, Leon Erasmus and Steve Burnett wrote the daily race report, treating us to excellent coverage of what was happening to riders out on the course. An array of other Freedom Writers also joined the ranks. The brief was to “let the inner author out” and to write on whatever took their fancy. So a huge thanks as well to Gill Graaf, Ingrid Avidon, Fiona Coward, Garlo Gonzaga and Sandy Maytham-Bailey for your contributions. I know you all enjoyed the experience and I also appreciated being able to write about my obscure interests. Feedback from readers is this experiment of multiple writers worked well so we will keep this formulae for next year.
The Buffalo Herders contingent is growing. This year we had many new volunteers join our ranks. John the Geologist and I were joined by Mike Potgieter, Fiona Coward, Janine Oosthuizen, Tim Lotz, and Andy Wesson. Llewellyn Lloyd, aside from his visual media duties, was also awarded his Buffalo Herder cap. We have had a number of people offer their services going ahead. I am thinking of Pierre Singery and Clint le Roux in particular. When one considers that we also have our Gauteng Buffalo Herders (Elton Prytz and Gerrit Pretorius in particular) we are well placed to support the Freedom Challenge into the future as a voluntary cohort who is more than happy to give of our time purely for the pleasure of helping others “realize their adventure dreams” (as RD Chris Fisher quoted above).
The project of the Freedom Artist, Bruce Backhouse, will restart one Bruce recovers from his cycling accident. The 20th anniversary of the Freedom Challenge is now two years away and Bruce’s output will provide a wonderful focal point around which we can properly celebrate this anniversary.
The Scholarship Fund continues to thrive. I had an interesting chat with Allen Sharp, one of the trustees a few weeks back and learned plenty about the history and workings of the fund. I’m not going to go into huge detail in this report (the topic warrants singular focus in a separate report) but my initial feedback is as follows:
2021 is by some margin the most successful fundraising year thus far. We don’t have final figures but it appears as we will have raised over R300k during 2021. The final figure may well go over R400k. In the 18 years of the fund’s existence well over R2m has been raised. Over 50 kids have been put through Mariazell High School.
Individual fund raising efforts worked particularly well. “Sponsor my ride” efforts from Greg Fisher, Craig Copeland, Jonathan Williams and Jason Wesson raised large amounts. Some very generous donations were also received from other riders who wish to remain anonymous. During the year various impromptu initiatives also contributed to the fund. Much of the cheer-leading for this was done by Janine Oosthuizen, in addition to her personal contribution in her visit to Mariazell during RASA. Our thanks goes to all of you for dipping your hands into your pockets during the year.
Initiatives like this are all about impact. Whilst we have clearly made a massive difference to local communities around KZN and East Griqualand, thought perhaps needs to be given to the following:
The actual impact after our scholarship recipients leave school (tertiary education, ultimate employment etc.). At present we play a crucial role at secondary education level. Is this impact sustained after school? If not how could we help in this regard?
Are there other communities along the trail that could benefit? We are starting to get requests elsewhere (e.g. Rhodes).
We need to pay tribute to the Trustees of the Scholarship Fund, Dave Waddilove, Allen Sharp and Chris Morris (all blanket wearers) for the work they do. Our thanks also to Tsepo Lesholu who looks after the scholarship recipients on the ground.
Three topics are currently doing the rounds:
Looks like we will have both a summer and winter RASA in 2022.
RTP will in future years have an option of avoiding Stettynskloof and going around via Baineskloof to Diemersfontein
The option of doing the Extreme Freedom Challenge Triathlon in 2022 is on the cards, given date changes in the start dates for the Comrades Marathon and the Berg River Canoe Marathon. A number of people have already expressed an interest in this.
The future looks bright.
Until next year, happy riding.